Can We Talk? Longing for an Open Discussion on Parenthood

Parenthood

Having children brought a whirlwind of change into my life that-if I am to be truly honest-I didn’t expect. Before the birth of our first child, my husband and I read all the baby books we could. We attended childbirth classes and spent countless hours on the Internet preparing for life with our baby. People told us that we were in for a big surprise. They told us our lives would change drastically. But only after our daughter, Molly, was born, did we discover just how unprepared we were for life as parents.

Life with a baby was suddenly more complicated, intense, exciting, and overwhelming. Life’s high and low points seemed drastically higher and lower. I remember shedding tears of joy with the loving thoughts I had for Molly…and tears of desperation, because I just couldn’t keep up with everything that needed to get done.

A few months later-just as Molly started walking, then running, then saying, “No”-we learned we were expecting again. My husband and I wondered how we would ever manage with two kids. As the birth of our son approached, we found ourselves talking more and more about how unequipped we felt to be parents.

Where can you go to talk?

Were we the only parents that experienced feelings of insecurity? Didn’t other parents agonize about the seemingly impossible number of demands on their energy and finances? Then why was it so hard to find an open, honest discussion about how becoming a parent makes normally confident, educated people feel suddenly, frighteningly inadequate? I found parenting magazines merely provided helpful hints for raising children. Parenting groups remained sadly superficial. All the usual resources neglected honest discussion on coping with the immense adjustment that having children brings.

I wondered if it was somehow “taboo” for people to discuss their insecurities with parenting.

As a psychologist, I am accustomed to talking with people about their emotional health. Frank discussions about coping strategies are commonplace for me. But as I entered the frightening world of parenting, I too found myself avoiding open discussion of certain emotional experiences and challenges. I wondered if it was somehow “taboo” for people to discuss their insecurities with parenting.

I longed for conversations with other parents where we would have the honesty to say, “Is your sanity always balancing on a tightrope?” or, “Jeepers, I haven’t had more than 10 minutes to myself the past week,” or, “The clean house you see at the moment is otherwise a complete disaster zone. I appreciate you calling before you came over-I was able to hide most of Molly’s toys behind the couch and give the impression that I do have some sort of control!”

Safe to be honest

In my practice today, I’ve found how important it is to break through the taboo and try to be very “real” with the parent clients that I see. We discuss fears of inadequacy and regret over mistakes. We talk about the stresses and the demands. We admit weakness. It helps. It helps to have someone with whom you can finally share the worry and fear and guilty feelings.

It also helps to have someone who can help you sort through the feelings to discover which need action and which can be relieved with a dose of reality. In honest, open discussion we can acknowledge that the images of the clean, well-mannered looking children in the Pottery Barn for Kids catalog are not real. We can let go of the unrealistic beliefs about how our lives ought to be and get down to talking about how our lives actually are. We can talk about the dirty diapers, the lack of sleep, the fearful uncertainty of trying to comfort an incessantly crying baby, the worry over fevers and ear aches, the early-morning sense of failure that creeps in and makes us want to crawl back under the covers until our child is full-grown, and the hovering judgment we sense from neighbors, teachers, and mother-in-laws. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to be real like that with someone?

Finding a safe place for letting your guard down, a place where you can finally find release from the social pressure toward parental perfection, isn’t always easy. It is, however, worth the effort.

You don’t have to hire a psychologist to find a safe place to be real. New parents can benefit by being true to their instincts and talking openly with others who have infants and toddlers. Seek open, therapeutic discussions with others in similar situations (because parents soon forget about highchairs and ear infections). It not only helps minimize feelings of isolation and frustration, but also opens the door for building a meaningful support system.

Whether you seek a professional counselor or a friend in similar circumstances, it’s helpful for your own state of mind to seek that kind of open relationship. Storing fear, worry, and insecurity beneath the façade of parental perfection may be the norm in our society, but it’s not healthy, and it tends to only increase the sense of pressure.

Do you know how, sometimes, you feel so full of pressure and feelings and questions that you just want to burst wide open? Perhaps it’s about time…to do exactly that.